The first weekend of the February block ended on Sunday in Garmisch-Partenkirchen with a win from France’s Alexis Pinturault, and another podium for Switzerland’s Loic Meillard and Norway’s Leif Nestvold-Haugen. Pinturault was able to break into the lead after sitting in fourth the first run, earning the 27th victory of his career and designating him as the only man to win two giant slaloms so far this season.
In the absence of Marcel Hirscher, Pinturault and Henrik Kristoffersen have been expected by fans and media to control the battle for the overall crystal globe. As predicted, the battle has been tight between the tech specialists over the course of the year. The only source of outside contention comes from Aleksander Kilde, a speed specialist with enough prowess in the giant slalom and alpine combined to keep him in the running for the title. Pinturault’s win allowed him to surpass Kilde in the overall standings by two points, putting him 55 points back from Kristoffersen, who was noticeably absent from Sunday’s podium, finishing in seventh.
Despite a few ‘hiccups’ here and there, Kristoffersen has been on the podium or close to it in almost every race he has entered so far this season. Although he is only competing in the giant slalom, the slalom, and parallel, Kristoffersen is essentially dominating his specialties, allowing him to stay on top of the standings ahead of two men that are competing across five disciplines.
Haugen’s third-place finish is his third podium in the giant slalom event, and his second podium this season. The 32-year-old Norwegian is one of the few active athletes on the World Cup who have utilized the NCAA circuit in the United States and built a career that has them in podium contention. As a University of Denver student, Haugen juggled earning a degree, university competition, and World Cup competition simultaneously. The Norwegian snagged his first World Cup top ten in the Madonna night slalom the year he was set to graduate. Since that moment in 2012, Haugen has consistently been in contention for World Cup podiums and won bronze at the 2017 World Championships in St. Moritz. But he has yet to really find the podium groove until the 2019/20 season.
“It’s almost like I think in English sometimes when I think about my tasks for my skiing because I had so many years [in the United States] and that’s really where I made the groundwork for the World Cup,” said Haugen.
Haugen headed to the states in 2008 to attend Denver to build out career options for himself after his skiing career came to an end, but mainly to further facilitate his skiing in hopes of being competitive for the Norwegian program. Seeing that Haugen is still earning podiums at the age of 32, his plan seemed to have worked.
“When I left Norway, people thought that I was done with skiing and that I would make a career in business or finance. But I went over there with the goal to become a better skier,” Haugen told the FIS in a 2018 interview. “To reach that, I had to learn to think differently and put in the extra work. Despite the very good school program, I had to keep pushing and search for a competitive scene, also in summer. Those extra steps made me reach a new level and the Norwegian Ski Federation picked me up with open arms when I came back. I proved that I was good enough through my results.”
Haugen’s competition and fellow NCAA alumni, Tommy Ford, did not have the day he was hoping for in terms of results but felt as if his skiing is heading in the right direction after a long break from competition. Ford finished just outside of the top 10 in 11th, 1.37 seconds back from Pinturault.
In Garmisch, particularly on a shortened course, finding an attacking rhythm is essential to being competitive for the top three stops. Haugen mentioned that he thinks no guy was one hundred percent comfortable, riding it out through variable snow conditions was key to a fast run. Both Ford and his teammate, Ted Ligety, felt that for them on Sunday that rhythm did not come as easily as it should have.
“I would say second run was better at the top. More with the rhythm on the course and feeling more connected, kept it rolling pretty nice through the whole narrow section, and then there were a couple turns where I was trying to push too hard for the snow conditions, you kind of just have to ride it and float and push,” said Ford.
“First run was pretty disappointing,” added Ligety. “I never really found a rhythm and was just fighting it the whole way. Second run I found the rhythm a little bit more and definitely made a good run relatively but not exactly what I wanted to see from this race. Overall happy to at least move up a little bit.”
Ligety sat in 25th after his first go at the track, and was able to make up enough time in the second run to finish 14th overall. Fellow American Ryan Cochran-Siegle also finished in the top 25 in 22nd, 1.95 seconds out from Pinturault.
The Austrian men’s team made history on Sunday, but not in a positive way. Since the absence of Hirscher, the program in men’s giant has significantly struggled. Manuel Feller was the only man to score points for the Austrian team, finishing in 28th. The Austrians have not suffered a worse result in men’s giant slalom in the 53-year history of the World Cup.
The next stop for the men’s tour is Chamonix, France. Saturday, February 8th hosts a slalom event, followed by a parallel giant slalom event on Sunday, February 9th.
- Alexis Pinturault (FRA): 1:00.75
- Loic Meillard (SUI): +0.16
- Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen (NOR): +0.24
- Filip Zubcic (CRO): +0.35
- Zan Kranjec (SLO): +0.35
- Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (NOR): +0.54
- Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR): +0.79
- Victor Muffat-Jeandet (FRA): +0.80
- Stefan Luitz (GER): +1.00
- Gino Caviezel (SUI): +1.06
For full results, click here.